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Adaptation from Screen to Stage? Branagh’s Olive Groves, Puskás’s Orangery and Shakespearean Rhizomatics

frPublié en ligne le 18 décembre 2018

Par Gabriella REUSS


À partir des critiques théâtrales et des commentaires de forums en ligne concernant le film de Kenneth Branagh (1993) et la mise en scène de Tamás Puskás (Théâtre Central, Budapest, 2015), cet article montre que les spectateurs hongrois ont tendance à identifier le film de Branagh avec « l’original shakespearien ». Leur admiration envers Branagh/Shakespeare a créé un culte qui rappelle le culte de Shakespeare à l’époque de Garrick. Ces fans de Shakespeare vu au prisme de Branagh ont tendance à privilégier des mises en scène traditionnelles (comme celle de Puskás) plutôt que des adaptations scéniques plus inventives pour la simple raison qu’elles recréent l’atmosphère et la mémoire du film.

L’inventaire des critiques et des commentaires montre que la mise en scène tout autant que le film et les habitudes de consommation du corpus shakespearien sont plus générationnelles que l’on pourrait le penser de prime abord. Cet article analyse le succès de cette mise en scène en utilisant des notions élaborées par Zoltán Márkus (l’hybridité) et Douglas Lanier (le développement rhizomatique) pour qualifier la réception du corpus shakespearien à notre époque.


With the help of reviews and chat forum comments on Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film and Tamás Puskás’s 2015 staging (Centrál Theatre, Budapest) this paper infers that Hungarian audiences tend to identify Branagh’s version of Much Ado as the « Shakespearean original ». Their reverence towards Branagh/Shakespeare has created a cult resminiscent of the Shakespeare cult in Garrick’s time. These Shakespeare-through-Branagh fans tend to favour traditional productions (such as Puskás’s) over more inventive stage adaptations, simply because they recreate the atmosphere and memory of the film.

The mapping of reviews and comments betrays that both the staging and the viewing and consuming practices of Shakespeare(an plays) are more generation-governed than we might first think. The paper thus contributes to the analysing and understanding of contemporary popular reception that can best be described by such notions applied to the contemporary reception of Shakespeare as Zoltán Márkus’s hybridity and Douglas Lanier’s Shakespearean Rhizomatics.


“That’s the scene that I would see,

which will be merely a dumb show.”1

« All sounds of woe » converted into « Hey nonny, nonny » (act II, scene 3, 70-71)

2The production of Much Ado About Nothing at Centrál Theatre, Budapest(dir. Tamás Puskás, 2015, still running in 2018) which prompted this paper surprises the Shakespeare scholar and the performance critic with its general resemblance to Kenneth Branagh’s 1993 film. Commenters and reviewers alike responded quite positively to the production for turning all sounds of woe into a « Hey nonny, nonny » and they seem to have been more than satisfied with the production’s classical simplicity and clear avoidance of exploring any new ways of representation. Few critics, however, voiced their disappointment as regards the staging, and found it outdated, uninteresting and conventional.2

3Why should, then, such a production, of allegedly limited inventiveness, occupy these pages? The fact that the production continues to play to full houses (though in a repertory system) marks its popularity; so a more thorough look at the mechanics behind its lasting success seems necessary for at least two reasons. Firstly because the Budapest playgoers are not used to screen-to-stage adaptations, at least not in the case of Shakespeare and in small theatres.3 And secondly because the production stands out from the theatre trend characteristic of the past two decades in Budapest, especially in the theatres of Centrál’s size. This trend can best be labelled as « new theatricality », a concept which was invented by theatre theorist Árpád Kékesi Kun to describe the « density of signifiers » and the « dizzying wealth of sight and sound which requires both a sharpened perception from the viewer and a follow-up of the association mechanism initiated so far; and, what’s more, a self-conscious reflection. »4 Centrál’s Much Ado, however, refuses any attempt to experiment, either with the Shakespearean material or with the modes of its delivery.

4Centrál is one of the relatively small, downtown theatres of roughly two to five hundred seats which, since the early 1990s, were quite keen on experimenting with what we now call « new theatricality ». These theatres laced even their classical productions, their Molières and Shakespeares, with a playful, ironic and/or tragic – but always very sensual – physicality. Due to the « density of signifiers », it is a commonly shared characteristic that they allow, even cater for, multiple interpretations at once and thus appetizingly open up the playtexts for further thoughts. However, the Much Ado directed by Tamás Puskás is quite different and cannot be described in the framework of « new theatricality » at all. Yet it is more than clear that Puskás, who has a number of Shakespeare productions to his name, managed to create a production that reached and mostly satisfied its target playgoers.

5The careful selection of the performances that make it to the page in Shakespeare scholarship is the critic’s responsibility, as Isabelle Schwartz-Gastine recently pointed out.5 Hence, here the critic must ask for licence to mention what might not go down as a landmark production in theatre history. Yet the exploration of the success of this Much Ado and its audience in the cultural and intellectual context sketched briefly above promises an adventure that will contribute to what we know of our contemporary audiences, their choices and the way they construct their Shakespeare(s).

« Undisturbed laughter and nothing else »6

6What is it, then, that Puskás’s direction offers and to whom? To what extent can he (hope to) reproduce the 1993 Branaghesque sunshine under our present skies? How can he remake on the stage today what looked charming on the screen twenty-two years ago? Clearly, we are witnessing a process that Katherine Rowe described as the « traffic, recycling and cross-pollination between screen and other arts ».7 However, Puskás’s motivation – be it a desire to pay homage or the pragmatic concocting of a recipe for commercial success through thinly veiled plagiarism – is as yet unclear.

7By the stage performance’s general resemblance to the widescreen production I meant the few basic directions in the interpretation that define any rendering of Much Ado. For instance, the way Puskás’s production deals with Claudio’s hubris is so similar to the way Branagh dealt with it that what Samuel Crowl wrote of Branagh’s solution decades ago perfectly fits Puskás’s version, too. Both Branagh and Puskás made « Claudio’s wedding tantrum properly ugly and savage », but took care that « the power of the moment’s impact » was « lessened » they both asked « the audience to understand the wounded lover’s anger and to sympathise with Claudio rather than to judge him. »8 Dealing with the generic characteristics of film adaptations Kinga Földváry stressed that the approach to the Claudio-problem is usually the cornerstone of readings.9 Branagh’s and Puskás’s rendering contrasts them with, for instance, the 2005 Much Ado in Shakespeare ReTold,10 in which Hero replies to Claudio’s renewed proposal with a memorable (and genre changing) : « Get married ? To you ? Never in a million years ! ». Thus « [r]ather than revealing Claudio’s insecure and immature male malice », the Branagh solution « has the effect of making Claudio and Hero’s reconciliation as romantically inviting and welcome as that of Beatrice and Benedick »11 wrote Samuel Crowl, and exactly this seems to have been Puskás’s aim, too. Puskás follows Branagh in making « visually vivid the shy, bashful and conventional relationship between Claudio and Hero »12, by casting a fragile and radiantly lively young beauty (Katalin Ágoston) as Hero, and also by (here seemingly deviating from Branagh’s line but as we will see, eventually sticking to Branagh’s reading) keeping the ladies’ morning scene (act III, scene 4). This scene is needed to keep Hero on stage longer, but this does not altogether alter the performance’s main focus which is evidently (though not exclusively) on Benedick and Beatrice.

Claudio (Bálint Rada) and his fragile Hero (Katalin Ágoston) in white

© Photo: Judit Horváth, https://www.centralszinhaz.hu/eloadasok/sok_huho_semmiert

8Very importantly, evil is only lightly present in Puskás’s production: Don John’s motive (jealousy?) remains unclear and unimportant; moreover, he does not return in the end, and with him all darkness literally disappears from the stage. Borachio breaks down and gives himself up to the Dogberry-watch voluntarily (that is, no one has to hunt or catch him), and when Dogberry and Co. amateurishly forget to tie him while they complain that the « offender, did call me ass » (V.1.320-321), he penitently refrains from attempting to escape (to the audience’s hilarity). To achieve « undisturbed laughter and nothing else »13, even Balthasar’s melancholy song and Claudio’s mourning is cut. Most reviewers did not seem to notice that this way, overdoing Branagh’s light mood, in Puskás’s production there is practically nothing at stake.14 True, Don Pedro’s wooing Hero in Claudio’s name casts a shadow over the relationship between the two men, and even the production’s trailer spot was published under the title « Don Pedro’s whims and caprices ».15 However, in reality, Don Pedro’s dark little game seems to pass unnoticed by spectators and reviewers alike, and the production is seen as hilarious and perfectly happy.

Dogberry and Co. in variations of black and white stripes. (Lajos Juhász as Second Watchman, Béla Éless as First Watchman, Attila Magyar as Dogberry, Zsolt Sáfár-Kovács as George Seacoal)

© Photo: Zsolt Puskel, http://puskelzsolt.com/galeria/sok-huho-semmiert-central-szinhaz

Branagh’s olive groves and Puskás’s orangery

9In place of Branagh’s sun-drenched Tuscan olive groves and vineyards, Centrál’s stage is abundant with shiny green foliage, as if in a turn-of-the-century glass-roof orangery.16 The central space from where the three doors open seems elegant, urban and conventional: it is cobbled, furnished with a bench and lined by giant flower pots that serve as excellent hiding places for the gossip-trapped lovers, the same way the shady junipers, thuyas, and cypresses did in 1993 in the hilltop garden of Villa Vignamaggio.17 True, through showing the watercolour painting of the picturesque venue, Branagh frames the story, emphasises its fictitious nature and establishes the film as a work of art. Even if Puskás’s greenery, placed in a winter garden, is man-made and emphatically artificial, it lacks such self-reflection.

10Another consequence of the elegant winter garden set-design is the polite distance it conveys, which is in sharp contrast with the colourful and fragrant, almost tactile location of the film. The pot plants leave the centre stage open, therefore Puskás’s mise en scène does not provide that sense of swirling emotions, of being lost in a maze, which one perceives in the film: there the neatly trimmed boxwood orbs and hedges offer countless alternative routes to wander about in doubt, only to find eventually the safe points, the swing, the fountain and the certainty in requited love. In contrast (and in parallel, too), Puskás’s stage features a well on the right side. It has real water in it and Benedick hides there, more precisely, ducks in it several times to the audience’s uproar only to deliver the hilarious lines in the gulling scene dripping, « When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not / Think I should live till I were married » (II.3.245-246). Puskás’s madly happy and soaking wet Benedick strongly reminds us of Branagh’s Benedick splashing in the fountain.

Benedick’s (Zoltán Schmied) monologue, dripping.

© Photo: Zsolt Puskel, http://puskelzsolt.com/galeria/sok-huho-semmiert-central-szinhaz

11The list of Branagh-based directorial choices in the production is long, so let me illustrate my point with only a few more symptomatic ones. The main characters all wear some white clothing: the fancy uniforms and the light summer dresses are at least in part white, perhaps to reflect the artificial sunshine, perhaps to resemble the film’s costume design. Here Puskás uses a colour coding that Branagh avoided (presumably as being too obvious): white apparently belongs to the “good guys”, while dark colours belong to the villains. Puskás’s Don John appears in menacing Third Reich coal black, while Borachio and Conrade sport khakis; thus the latter two are placed somewhere in the middle on the conventionally polarized, good-to-bad, white-to-black scale. Minor female characters, experienced women wear several shades of dark cherry red as opposed to minor male characters whose suits feature variations of elegant black and white stripes. Beatrice’s costume design accompanies (and explains) her gradual submission to Benedick :18 at her first appearance she wears sassy white riding breeches to a mauve velvet blouse, but as her femininity starts blossoming in accepting Benedick’s wooing she soon exchanges her breeches for a long skirt. She is clearly differentiated from the all-white Hero, as the colours of her new outfit remain within the framework of the original colour coding. But to stress her maturity and experience, age and erotic radiance, Beatrice’s white blouse is semi-transparent and her richly plaited soft skirt is sensually fluttering mauve velvet.

Colour coding in Centrál’s production : Don John (Péter Vári-Kovács) wears coal black while Conrade (Győző Szívós) sports khakis.

© Photos: Zsolt Puskel, http://puskelzsolt.com/galeria/sok-huho-semmiert-central-szinhaz

12Such self-explanatory textiles and colours are missing from the film, yet the main impression lent by the whites and the rich flora behind is that of an undeniable semblance to Branagh’s visual world. The orangery accommodates a semi-indoors setting which justifies the lack of full natural light. Nonetheless, this domesticated jungle of ficuses is lit by warm, yellowish, pastel colours that are directly reminiscent of the film’s sumptuous sunshine.

The leafy set provides perfect hiding places.

© Photos: Judit Horváth, https://7ora7.hu/2015/12/08/nem_sok_huha_nem_semmiert, http://est.hu/rendezes/23498/sok_huho_semmiert

13As the stage photos prove on the production website,19 we can easily find matching takes from the film and the performance that surprise us with their similarity. It is not only the whites and the lights, the leafy ivy set and the remake of “Branagh’s Gene Kelly-like splashing”20 in the rowback scene (performed dripping) remind the viewer of Branagh’s film ; but the physical resemblance of the players, too. Lia Pokorny, with Thompson-like curls, and Zoltán Schmied with a Branagh-like beard,21 play in a way that is doubtless reminiscent of Thompson’s snappy acting and Branagh’s vivid gestures respectively. Both Pokorny and Schmied are excellent actors and thus their acting does not parody but credibly recycle both the gestures and the impetus of their paradigm-setting British colleagues. The pair seem to embody the nostalgia and reverence of the director and the viewers for Branagh’s film.

The blond protagonists : Benedick (Zoltán Schmied) and Beatrice (Lia Pokorny) who embody the living reverence and remembrance towards Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson.

© Photo: Judit Horváth, https://www.centralszinhaz.hu/eloadasok/sok_huho_semmiert

Communal amity and the position of Shakespeare’s Much Ado in popular culture

14Some of the film scenes, however, cannot possibly be recreated on the stage, and these are the moments that proved the least successful in Puskás’s staging. Although the masque could be staged with a lively dance, the other crowd scenes which Branagh made so visually engaging (either with nudity or with neatly choreographed bird’s eye view takes from a crane) did not lend themselves so easily to remaking. For instance, the opening scene that featured the arrival of the messenger and the soldiers painfully lacks spirit and invention : in place of Branagh’s slow-motion, Western-like horse riding, in the stage version, the Prince and his entourage trivially enter and speak their lines standing immobile for long in what seems an amateurishly awkward semi-circle. One critic, Andrea Stuber, bitterly exclaimed at the sight : « A lot of characters came in in the company of the Prince, stood in a semi-circle, said their lines, stood there, said their lines, they themselves didn’t believe it, I didn’t believe it: is this what we are doing/watching in 2015, in Budapest? »22

The ominously static, amateurish semi-circle (and Beatrice’s breeches) in the opening scene (screenshot from production trailer)

15Nor did Puskás manage to re-create the film’s joyful physicality : Puskás’s only attempt, i.e. hiding his Benedick in real water and having him appear soaking wet seems to miss the point. Benedick’s ducking appears on the stage as an isolated gag, and not as a part of an overall scheme as in the film, and by no means can it fit the trend Kékesi Kun characterised by the « density of signifiers ». From the very first moment, Branagh showed the tanned human bodies in a naturalistic, almost tactile way : he built his entire reading of the play upon this visual addition. The muscular and hairy chests, heaving cleavages, sweating necks and dirty soles – and also their interchangeability – do more than provide a joke or create an overall mood; they construct both the entire space and the backdrop of the performance, where the main action, lovemaking in every sense of the word, takes place.

16The film emphatically points out the theatricality of the body; Puskás, however, chose not to follow Branagh in this respect. The bodies on the stage are used in a rather conventional way, functioning little more than colour coded coat hangers. Branagh’s swirling sequences and close-ups on body parts are not substituted, as one would expect, by some highly theatrical, even perhaps choreographed physical engagement: neither extra movements for text-less moments, nor memorable gestures are created. Consequently, the actors’ bodies become neither structural nor spectral in the play, the text and plot of which revolve around the desire and the sensuality of the body.

17In Puskás’s production Leonato’s brother Antonio has been changed into a woman, Antonia ; thus this situation provides the potential for the director to stage the gentle – and physical – female intimacy within the extended Leonato family which would contribute to the physicality of the stage production. Even the use of Antonia as a partial substitute for Innogen, Hero’s mother and Leonato’wife, could be justified by the 1600 edition of the play, as was recently pointed out by Zsolt Almási.23 However, Puskás’s production does not seize upon this opportunity to recreate some of the physicality of Branagh’s film.

18Perhaps the lack of physical engagement has to do with the fact that Puskás had a different focus for his production – namely, as we read on the theatre’s homepage,24 investigating the destructive power of rumour. Still, if this is the case, why did he then choose to follow Branagh so closely? And if he did so, why did he leave out such a crucial ingredient from Branagh’s recipe?

19Puskás’s staging seems to indicate that the film’s main strength lies in its representation of utopian amity, as we can see his efforts toward this direction in the production. Of course, Puskás could not remake anything even remotely like the film’s three memorable crane takes (the arrival of Don Pedro, the wedding and the final banquet/dance scene) that play a key role in building up the sense of merry communality so much appreciated by critics and viewers alike. Nonetheless Puskás’s attempt at achieving something similar, i.e. his company’s pastel coloured serenity in that warm yellowish light, is quite evident. His effort is conspicuous in that he gave Don John a minimum share of stage presence and that he tailored all other characters, Dogberry for instance, and even Claudio and Borachio, to be as gentle and likeable as possible.

20Michael Hattaway differentiates between stage and screen adaptations in terms of their respective audiences and their expectations, noting that the « theatrical versions of Shakespearean texts generally approach them as classics, a notion that defines them against one definition of the ‘popular’ » while the films made of the same classics are « often designated to tell the story for the first time to a mass audience ». On this basis Hattaway found « Branagh’s inductive sequences in Much Ado exceptional. »25 Branagh meant to address and succeeded in speaking to audiences that were not familiar with Shakespeare’s play and apparently Puskás’s aim was the same.

21Perhaps when planning a ‘popular’ version of Much Ado in 2015, twenty-two years after Branagh, Puskás was certain that his audience would not know Shakespeare’s classic textually and that he must “tell the story for the first time to a mass audience”26 – in short, he needed the recipe Branagh provided to reach larger crowds. If these crowds knew Much Ado at all, it was/would be visually – through Branagh’s film, or perhaps the ShakespeaReTold version (2005), the Tennant/Tate production directed by Josie Rourke (2011), or Joss Whedon’s film noir (2012).27 Interestingly enough, however, Puskás chose to ignore all the other versions and decided to remake or pay homage to Branagh’s; at least, as we have seen, he staged the play along the guidelines the Branagh movie had set. But why did he tie his production to Branagh’s adaptation?

The Audience

22We need not go far to see what supports Puskás’s choice. A brief sampling of online responses on popular web forums to the 1993 film demonstrates that ‘Shakespeare’ and ‘Much Ado’, whatever those concepts are taken to mean, are nonetheless strongly tied to, and in fact very often identified with, Branagh’s famous auteur rom-com. In general, these fans seek the golden tan and the undisturbed laughter, all reminiscent of a period of (lost? fairy tale?) innocence.

23Reviews of Puskás’s production do not seem to take notice of obvious shortcomings and conventional solutions; instead with few exceptions they all sing the director’s praises: « he gives what he promises », « he provides perfect entertainment », he « staged a beautifully sunny performance », « full of undisturbed laughter and nothing else » – in short, that he converted « All sounds of woe » into « Hey nonny, nonny ». Apparently, the climax of all praises for Centrál and Puskás is when their Much Ado is likened to the one directed by Kenneth Branagh. Mentions of the Branagh film frequently feature an elevated tone, one that reveals a strong, an even physical reaction or profoundly personal/familial attachment.28

24The ratings viewers on a Hungarian review aggregator site, snitt.hu29 gave to films inform us that even the otherwise familiar and popular 2011 Josie Rourke production of Much Ado could not compete with the popularity of Branagh’s earlier movie.30 For instance, a fan confessed, « I kept wavering between 9 or 10 stars [for the 2011 Much Ado], but then I hardened my heart, [giving it only 9] because for me, Emma Thompson is Beatrice. »31

25Branagh’s take is dominantly seen in Hungary as a point of reference for Shakespeare, not for adaptations, generally labelled as ‘truly Shakespearean’, and consequently a ten-star rating out of ten is nothing out of the ordinary, as it made a lasting impression on all the later films and filmmakers, too. Indeed, an overwhelmingly large number of the snitt.hu informants insisted that Branagh’s film was the one that they grew up with and that it is the one they hold as a cornerstone and faithful representative of Shakespeare. One spectator says that Branagh’s Much Ado has a cultural position very similar to that of Little Red Riding Hood.32

26The reasonings fans provide for why they love the Branagh film are all the more unusual. Many fans roundly state that one can never have enough of it. One wrote, « I love Shakespeare. [...] Great actors, great acting, pleasant music. To be re-viewed many times. »33 For this fan, Shakespeare means Branagh, and re-viewing Branagh sounds like re-visiting a homey place or perhaps a shrine, taking a pilgrimage. Another fan reveals that the film has been a favourite since childhood and that (s)he « knows it by heart. »34

27The latter remark by no means refers to the original Shakespearean text, because what the fan can recite by heart is Branagh’s screenplay. This phenomenon reminds me of the Bard’s festive 1769 Jubilee, during which, as Michael Dobson details it in his monograph, The Making of the National Poet, 18th-century fans demonstrated their adoration of Shakespeare by dressing up as Shakespearean characters35 and participating in colourful city and stage processions in Stratford and London, but knew and cherished Shakespeare exclusively in adapted form.36

28On snitt.hu a fan named Sister repeats the already mentioned phrase, « can’t have enough of it »; by « it » referring to both the film and the verbal sparring between Benedick and Beatrice. Sister opines that Patrick Doyle’s music is « elevating », gives her « continuous goosebumps all the time » and that « it is impossible not to love this Mediterranean comedy of errors. »37 Eventually Sister concludes that this is Shakespeare’s best comedy. Branagh’s adaptation is again quite clearly identified with Shakespeare’s play.

29What is interesting to the Shakespeare scholar about these fans is the words and expressions they use, reminding us of the vocabulary so characteristic of the early stages – both in Britain and in Hungary – in the evolution of the Shakespeare cult. The phrase « can’t have enough of it » along with such expressions as the film’s being « evergreen », « brilliant », « favourite for ever » keep recurring in several other posts idolizing Branagh’s movie. The one I found the most amusing amongst those that foster a highly intimate personal relation to the film, and which seems the most relevant example in establishing the Branagh-Much Ado cult was a confession: « Beatrice is my personal favourite and as a child I always wanted to marry Benedick. »38 Symptomatically, Benedick, a Shakespearean character becomes something of a childhood idol, a person of authority, perhaps personally not known, yet idealized, unquestioned, and revered.

30When we consider the indirect indications of time (such as, « in my childhood » etc) in fan responses on snitt.hu (2015), we may infer that they must be in their late twenties, and by their use of the language and the site we may deduce that they do not belong to Branagh’s original 1993 audience. Rather, they appear to be the descendants of the first enthusiasts who with Branagh’s film, passed their love of Shakespeare/Branagh onto their children. The coming of the DVD (the new technical development of the time) in 1995 coincided with and may have contributed to, the availability and subsequent success of Branagh’s film (in Hungary): the first foreign film DVDs that appeared on the Hungarian markets contained recently released films that had already proved popular in the cinema, on television and on VHS (the latter two with excellent Hungarian dubbing).

31Whatever the reasons, we appear to have at least two generations of fans ‒ one young adult and one middle-aged and upward ‒ for whom, spontaneously and instinctively, Branagh’s Much Ado is an (the?) emotional focal point when they think of Shakespeare. It is quite possible that Puskás’s production, which relies so heavily on the sunny mood the Branagh film offers, caters for such an audience; an audience that demand for their Much Ado the Branaghesque « classical simplicity », that is white linen for people of all ranks, paradisiac landscape and glowing sunshine; in short, an audience for whom Branagh changed the paradigm of performing Much Ado for ever.

32Even though this phenomenon could remain somewhat marginal on the map of European Shakespeares, the Hungarian example nevertheless reminds us of the need to constantly update our concept of Shakespeare in terms of fan-generations. Puskás’s rendering does not so much engage with the reading of the Shakespearean text as with another adaptation. Puskás’s critics who missed the director’s own signature production or reproached him for sacrificing Shakespeare for popular success fail to see that, as Douglas Lanier expounded, it is a complex and highly « proliferating network of relations that constitute ‘Shakespeare’ at a given historical moment ».39 Such an approach situates Shakespeare’s cultural authority « not in the Shakespearean text at all but in the accrued power of Shakespearean adaptation, the multiple, changing lines of force we and previous cultures have labelled as ‘Shakespeare’ »40 and as I see it, this is exactly what –wittingly or unwittingly – happened in Puskás’s case.

33The reception of Branagh’s film in the mid-2010s taken together with the (at least by professional standards) inexplicable popularity of Puskás’s production reminded me that Douglas Lanier’s theory is applicable. Lanier claims that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s concept of the rhizome41 can serve as a model with which we can describe the field of Shakespearan stagings and adaptations. « The decentered structure of the internet provides an apt example of rhizomatic structure »42 that is characteristic of the sum of Shakespearean productions which we call contemporary Shakespeare. It is no more an arboreal or hierarchical construct whose roots reach back to the Shakespearean text. The field of contemporary Shakespeare ought to be seen, as Douglas Lanier suggests, « rhizomatically », that is, as the non-hierarchial and decentered texture of performances that call themselves Shakespearean. Indeed, Puskás’s production revealed that we cannot conceive ‘contemporary Shakespeare’ in any other way but rhizomatically. It is one reason why such a production as this can make it to the reviewer’s page, thus contributing to the production’s canonization, while perhaps the production itself is far from being a landmark rendering of Much Ado About Nothing.

“Comparisons are odorous” (III.5.15)

34It is somewhat ironic in the case of a production that aimed at closely following in Branagh’s footsteps that it is not the Branagh-inspired solutions that the playgoers love best, but a Hungarian actor’s own amiably daft Dogberry, who, speaking a modern translation43, establishes a direct contact between performer and spectator. Puskás’s Dogberry, Attila Magyar, is a likeable mutt whose speeches stir a roar of laughter and applause which regularly halt (!) the performances, as actors must wait for the audience to be quiet again. The sudden shift from representational to presentational acting, the chuckling laughter that simply will not stop, powerfully proves what Bridget Escolme has pointed out: the vast potential such meta-theatrical direct addresses carry.44

35Still, a closer look may reveal traces of the Branagh recipe here, too. In fact, just as Branagh’s Dogberry seems to be heavily influenced by the absurdist humour characteristic of the Monty Python group,45 Puskás’s Dogberry is also generously equipped with word plays and contemporized malapropisms that recall the Pythonesque humour. To complement his own translation, he asked the scriptwriter of the Hungarian Pythonesque group (called L’Art Pour L’Art), Móni Szászi46 to update Dogberry’s scenes with a gushing drollery of language jokes. Such cabaret style is not entirely alien to Centrál’s past: the stage (traditional proscenium layout) is particularly wide and low as the building was originally designed for the purposes of a music hall.47 Consequently, there is not much possibility to experiment with a less traditional apron stage or a square-shaped performing space. Thus the action in Much Ado takes place on a conventional 19th-century box-stage and it is only Dogberry’s scenes that bring a radical change in the mode of acting. Making use of the small auditorium and the proximity of actors and spectators, Attila Magyar’s Dogberry often addresses the audience directly, thus breaking the fourth wall – and this (perhaps unintentional) occasion is the production’s sole unconventional take.

The Hungarian Pythonesque: Dogberry (Attila Magyar) directly talks to the audience.

© Photo: Zsolt Puskel, http://puskelzsolt.com/galeria/sok-huho-semmiert-central-szinhaz

36Such a traditionally shaped stage alone could determine Centrál’s theatrically less experimental profile – according to the European Theatre Database, the aim of the company is « to find a healthy middle way between artistic experimenting and entertainment »48 – , but the unusual tenancy scheme plays an even stronger role in the conventional nature of its profile. As Budapest playhouses are usually financed either by the state or the city, few ordinary theatregoers know that Tamás Puskás, manager and tenant of Centrál, invested his private money (and bank loans too) into buying the rights of the tenancy and must also pay a considerable sum for rent annually. To keep ticket prices at a reasonable level, Puskás simply cannot allow any production to flop: in his relatively small auditorium49 he needs each and every seat to produce income.

37In sum, we ought to see that there is much more to this remake than the influence and ubiquity of the Branagh DVD. Clearly, the mercilessness of the financial conditions sketched briefly above must have contributed to Puskás’s choice to use Branagh’s recipe to be able to achieve popular success with Shakespeare. Puskás’s decision of selecting Much Ado and following Branagh’s solutions and emphases reveals a lot about our contemporary Hungarian playgoers: about their common background, their cultic reverence towards the « Branagh/Shakespeare », in short, about their spectating practices.

« We temporize with Shakespeare and Shakespeare temporizes with us »50

38What exempts Puskás from the charge of servile plagiarism is, for instance, the rhizomatic approach Lanier suggested: it « necessarily includes faithful and unfaithful adaptations, and adaptations of them, and adaptations of them».51 The fact that Puskás in his small performing space did not intend to come up with a rendering of directorial signature, but took the safe route of borrowing heavily from Branagh’s film as a common denominator for his varied audiences, reveals that his more than occasional and rather romantic stage imitation of the film apparently gives those audiences an electrifying feeling of déjà vu, simultaneously reassuring and redefining the audience’s concept of Branaghesque Shakespeare. This « Shakespeare » appears to be the one in the mid-1990s, and not the one in the 17th century.

39However, we are certainly wrong if we charge Puskás with effectively distributing a false image of Shakespeare. In a recent paper Zoltán Márkus directs our attention to the timelessness or (un)timeliness of Shakespeare’s « perpetual becoming » which he calls Shakespeare’s synchronic existence, i.e. Shakespeare’s hybridity.52

40The addressee of Márkus’s Festschrift paper, in which he argues for the synchronic approach of Shakespearean appropriation, is Péter Dávidházi, the pioneer who treated the sum of Shakespearean references, pilgrimages and appropriations as the temporal evolution of a semi-religious cult.53 For decades, his anthropological perspective has been the reference point in understanding popular culture around us. These days, Lanier and Márkus accentuate the rhizomatic and the synchronic nature of appropriations, respectively, to be able to frame and interpret the striving and proliferating Shakespearean processes.

41This paper’s case study, Puskás’s performance, laden with references to Branagh’s film, not only proves that the critic’s approach ought not to be linear but also, that we can indeed profit from the temporally nuanced examination of particular audiences. My final conclusion is that both the staging and the viewing/consuming practices of Shakespeare(an plays) are much more generation- and cult-governed than we might first think. Such generational choices invisibly dominate our cultural consumption, over the demand of theatrical self-reflexivity, sensuality or physicality, – hence, over Puskás’s lack of « original » rendering, let us « sigh no more ».


1  Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing, act II, scene 3, 220-221, Folger Digital Texts, Barbara Mowat and Paul Werstine (eds.), http://www.folgerdigitaltexts.org/html/Ado.html#line-3.5.0 This version will be the reference text of this article.

2  E.g. the critic Balázs Urbán, at Pótszékfoglaló blog in his article, « A szerelem elviselhető könnyűsége » (« The bearable lightness of love »), https://www.potszekfoglalo.hu/2015/12/30/a-szerelem-elviselheto-konnyusege/. All translations from Hungarian into English are mine unless stated otherwise.

3  In 1999, the Much Ado production at Vígszínház (a large theatre, with a seating capacity of 1,100) was also « inspired by » the Branagh film. It is quite telling that a critic (alias bonnie9) commended it to those who want to have a similar feeling they had had with Branagh (https://kulturleny.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/sok-huho-semmiert-much-ado-about-nothing/ ). Due to the size and the profile of the theatre, the 1999 Vígszínház production falls outside the scope of this paper. I thank Dr Veronika Schandl for reminding me of the Vígszínház production.

4  Kékesi Kun Árpád, Színház, kultúra, emlékezet, Theatron Könyvek, Veszprém, Pannon Egyetemi Kiadó, 2006, p. 79.

5  Isabelle Schwartz-Gastine, « What becomes of a performance through (second hand) quotations of (second hand) reviews? », in Cahiers Elisabethains, 40th Anniversary, Special Issue 2012, p. 73-78.

6  Illatos, http://alltheworldsastage.blog.hu/2016/04/29/udvozlunk_a_blog_hu-n_52436.

7  Katherine Rowe, « Medium-specificity and other critical scripts for screen Shakespeare » in Alternative Shakespeares 3, Diana Henderson (ed.), London & New York, Routledge, 2008, p. 37.

8  Samuel Crowl, « Chapter 13. Flamboyant realist: Kenneth Branagh », in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, Russell Jackson (ed.), (2000), 2007, p. 226-242, p. 235.

9  Kinga Földváry, « Much Ado About Something? » in HUSSE 10 – Lit-Cult. Proceedings of the HUSSE 10 Conference, Zsolt Almási, Kinga Földváry, Veronika Schandl (eds.), Debrecen, Hungarian Society for the Study of English, 2011, p. 296-301.

10  Much Ado About Nothing (90 mins, 2005, dir. Brian Percival) in ShakeaspeaRe Told. (TV Mini-Series) Broadcast on BBC1 on 7 November 2005.

11  Samuel Crowl, op. cit., p. 235.

12  Idem.

13  Illatos, http://alltheworldsastage.blog.hu/2016/04/29/udvozlunk_a_blog_hu-n_52436.

14  but see Balázs Urbán’s dissent in his article « A szerelem elviselhető könnyűsége » (« The bearable lightness of love »), https://www.potszekfoglalo.hu/2015/12/30/a-szerelem-elviselheto-konnyusege/

15  « Don Pedro kénye-kedve » – « Don Pedro’s whims and caprices » – official recommendation at Színház.hu, the Hungarian Theatre Portal, http://szinhaz.hu/2015/12/09/don_pedro_es_a_kenye-kedve_sok_huho_semmiert_a_centralban.

16  The set and the glass roof can best be seen in the production’s trailer video on Centrál’s homepage: https://www.centralszinhaz.hu/eloadasok/sok_huho_semmiert.

17  Villa Vignamaggio, Greve in Chianti, Florence, Tuscany, Italy.

18  I thank Dr Zsolt Almási for this comment on Beatrice’s costume.

19  https://www.centralszinhaz.hu/eloadasok/sok_huho_semmiert

20  Samuel Crowl, op. cit., p. 234.

21  Used for only one scene, see the production’s trailer on the theatre’s homepage https://www.centralszinhaz.hu/eloadasok/sok_huho_semmiert

22  Andrea Stuber, Diary, “Bejött sok szereplő a herceg társaságában, megálltak félkörben, mondták a szöveget, álltak, mondták, maguk se hitték, én sem hittem: ezt csináljuk/nézzük, így, 2015-ben, Budapesten?” http://stuberandrea.hu/materials/HUN/naplo_2015_dec.htm, December 6, 2015.

23  Zsolt Almási, « Élet az élet előtt: szellem a Sok hűhó semmiértben » , Budapest, Reciti, 2017, p. 130.

24  https://www.centralszinhaz.hu/eloadasok/sok_huho_semmiert

25  Michael Hattaway, « Chapter 5. The Comedies on Film », in The Cambridge Companion to Shakespeare on Film, Russell Jackson (ed.), (2000), 2007, p. 87-101, p. 91.

26  Id.

27  Available in Hungary though not aired on the state TV channels.

28  In a prominent women’s weekly, Nők Lapja, an article celebrated the twentieth anniversary of Branagh’s film with the following title, « Then and now – the way the characters in Much Ado look now » (« Akkor és most – így néznek ki ma a Sok hűhó semmiért szereplői ») by v.v.v., March 31, 2014. http://www.nlcafe.hu/sztarok/20140331/sok-huho-semmiert/

29  Snitt.hu (review aggregator site) https://snitt.hu/filmek/sok-huho-semmiert-1993/ertekelesek.

30  On another Hungarian review aggregator site, www.filmkatalogus.hu, Branagh’s film scored 4.54 out of 5 from 1262 reviewers, while Whedon earned 3.33 from 9 reviewers, and the 2005 ReTold 4.14 from 73, and the 2011 version lacks mention.

31  User Honey Fly’s review : https://snitt.hu/filmek/sok-huho-semmiert-2011.

32  User Sophie’s review: https://snitt.hu/ertekelesek/51676.

33  « Kedvenc íróm és költőm volt már általános iskolásként. Ez a feldolgozás pedig megunhatatlan. Jó színészekkel, jó játékkal, kellemes zenével. Nagyon sokszor újranézős... » User Nimara’s review, June 28, 2015, 23:15.

34  « Kicsi korom óta a kedvencem. Nagyjából kívülről fújom az egészet. » User Sicc’s review, June 26, 2015, 17:12.

35  ‘Garrick with Shakespearean Characters’, Commemorating the Jubilee at Stratford-upon-Avon, 1769, a painting by Isaac Taylor.

36  Michael Dobson, The Making of the National Poet:Shakespeare, Adaptation and Authorship, 1660-1769, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1992.

37  « Megunhatatlan, ahogy Benedek és Beatrice szópárbaja is. Patrick Doyle felemelő zenéjétől folyamatos a libabőrözés, hozzá pedig ez a sok fantasztikus színész! Nem lehet nem szeretni ezt a mediterrán kalandos félreértést. Shakespeare legjobb komédiája ». User Sister’s review, June 24, 2015, 09:46.

38  « Beatrice a kedvencem, és kiskoromban mindig Benedek felesége akartam lenni ». User Aprile’ review, June 26 2015, 14:05.

39  Douglas Lanier, « Shakespearean Rhizomatics: Adaptation, Ethics, Value », in Shakespeare and the Ethics of Appropriation, Reproducing Shakespeare: New Studies in Adaptation and Appropriation, Alexa Huang and Elizabeth Rivlin (eds.), New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, p. 21-40, p. 36.

40  Ibid., p. 29.

41  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987), University of Minnesota Press, Continuum, 2004.

42  Douglas Lanier, op. cit. p. 36.

43  The play was translated by Tamás Puskás for the present production.

44  Bridget Escolme, Talking to the Audience. Shakespeare, Performance, Self, Abingdon & New York, Routledge, 2005, p. 8.

45  Keith Jones, « Homage or Plagiarism in Branagh's Much Ado About Nothing », in Bardfilm. The Shakespeare and Film Microblog. March 17, 2008. http://bardfilm.blogspot.com/2008/03/homage-or-plagiarism-in-branaghs-much_17.html.

46  Recommendation at the Hungarian Theatre Portal, Színház.hu, “Don Pedro és a kénye-kedve - Sok hűhó semmiért a Centrálban”, December 9, 2015. http://szinhaz.hu/2015/12/09/don_pedro_es_a_kenye-kedve_sok_huho_semmiert_a_centralban.

47  European Theatre Architecture, Database of Theatre Buildings: Centrál Theatre, https://www.theatre-architecture.eu/en/db/?theatreId=312&detail=history , technical details: https://www.theatre-architecture.eu/en/db/?theatreId=312&detail=params&placeId=319.

48  European Theatre Architecture, Database of Theatre Buildings: http://www.theatre-architecture.eu/hu/db/?theatreId=312.

49  Centrál Theatre has 320 seats.

50  Zoltán Márkus, « The (Un)timeliness of Shakespeare’s Hybridity », in Kősziklára építve. Built upon His Rock. Írások Dávidházi Péter tiszteletére. Writings in Honour of Péter Dávidházi, Dániel Panka, Natália Pikli, Veronika Ruttkay (eds.), ELTE, Budapest, 2018, p. 249-255, p. 254.

51  Douglas Lanier, op. cit., p. 30.

52  Zoltán Márkus, op. cit.

53  Péter Dávidházi, Isten másodszülöttje, Budapest, Gondolat, 1989, and The Romantic Cult of Shakespeare - Literary Reception in Anthropological Perspective, London & New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 1998.

Pour citer cet article

Gabriella REUSS (2018). "Adaptation from Screen to Stage? Branagh’s Olive Groves, Puskás’s Orangery and Shakespearean Rhizomatics". Shakespeare en devenir - Les Cahiers de La Licorne - N°13 - 2018 | Shakespeare en devenir.

[En ligne] Publié en ligne le 18 décembre 2018.

URL : http://shakespeare.edel.univ-poitiers.fr/index.php?id=1500

Consulté le 18/01/2019.

A propos des auteurs

Gabriella REUSS

Gabriella Reuss is Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Pázmány Péter Catholic University, Hungary. Her research interest lies in the stage history and reception of Shakespeare, as seen particularly in performance archives including promptbooks, and in contemporary plays. Besides theatre reviews and performance criticisms, the majority of her publications concernthe promptbook of the earliest restoration (1834) of the tragically ending King Lear. She devoted her doctoral dissertation (2004) to this manuscript. Her first monograph, entitled Shakespeare Londonban és Pest-Budán. Az előadás emlékezete [Shakespeare in London and Pest-Buda. Remembering performances] published by L’Harmattan in 2017, is aboutWilliam C. Macready’s and Gábor Egressy’s interpretation of Lear as seen in their unique prompt copies (1834, 1838) and the way their paradigm-changing performances shaped the Shakespeare cult as well as theatrical and cultural memory.

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